- Nick SerlucoUnited States
One-Line Review: Twilight Struggle is the game Risk wishes it could be as it cries itself to sleep at night.
Hi everyone! Today, we’re headed back to 1945 to kick off a game of Twilight Struggle; my absolute favorite game. Ideologies will clash, dictators will rise and fall, man will step foot on the moon, and one superpower will emerge victorious!
It’s been a long road, but World War II has finally ended. Humanity breathes a little easier as the world’s nations begin to pick up the pieces, but the respite doesn’t last very long. As the dust settles, two superpowers emerge from the wreckage poised at the start of a new age; a nuclear age. Armed with the power of the Atom, the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics hold the fate of the world in their hands.
It may come as no surprise to you that I’m a huge history nerd. The Cold War is a really interesting topic to study because the Superpowers weren’t fighting for land or resources, but for influence; they were fighting for the hearts and mind of the people. Shadow wars, spies, dictators and coups litter the timeline of the Cold War, but the thing that’s always really stood out most to me is the fear.
For the first time, the threat of global thermonuclear war was hanging over everyone’s head. People built bomb shelters under their homes, children grew up learning to duck and cover, and most telling of all, there was a Doomsday Clock. Every new piece of foreign policy, every troop movement, every new technological advance, every day had the potential to move us closer to complete and utter destruction. I didn’t live through the Cold War, but I can tell just from reading about it that it was terrifying.
Twilight Struggle brings this feeling to your tabletop. Playing Twilight Struggle, you feel like you’re balanced precariously on the edge of a cliff with no easy way to back down. You feel the stress of what it’s like to lead a nation during a time when everything you do can be viewed as an act of war. It is in creating this feeling that Twilight Struggle completely succeeds.
* Image via Fernando Latorre and BoardGameGeek
Twilight Struggle is a game of influence and ideology. There’s no fighting and no conquering; not directly, anyway. Each player tries to spread their influence among world nations, scoring points when their influence in a region outweighs their opponent’s.
Each game of Twilight Struggle begins with the setup phase. The US and the USSR each start the game with some influence spread across the globe. Each player also receives some influence they get to place where they think it will benefit them the most based on their starting hand (in Western Europe for the USA and Eastern Europe for the Soviets). In this, Twilight Struggle resembles the many aggressive and defensive setups seen in Chess. There’s a whole slew of articles here at BoardGameGeek that simply cover the merits (or lack thereof) of each setup.
Each player maintains a hand of Event Cards that get replenished each turn. These ards are separated into three decks (Early War, Mid-War, and Late War) that are added to the game as play continues to simulate the passage of time. On each Event Card is printed an event and an Operations Value. On a player’s turn, they may play a card for its event (removing it from the game if it’s a one-time event like Castro taking power in Cuba) or for its Operations Value.
Events usually have an effect that occurs immediately like the USSR gaining influence in Cuba or the USA advancing in the Space Race. Operations Values, however, allow players to gain influence in three ways: (1) Players can add influence to any country they already influence or adjacent to a country they influence, up to the Operations Value, (2) Players can attempt a Coup in any country in the world to remove opponent’s influence and potentially add their own, and (3) Players can attempt a Realignment in order to weaken their opponent’s influence over a country.
Players can also discard cards from their hand to try to advance in the Space Race. The Space Race provides advantages to the player that’s ahead, but also functions as the game’s discard mechanic.
There’s more to the rules, of course, but those are the basics.
* Image via Biblioteca Tecla Sala and BoardGameGeek
Twilight Struggle really is a brilliant game. Each of its mechanics adds something great to the experience but I think that the best thing about TS is the tension that it creates.
For both players, there are fires all over the world that need to be put out, and many problems are calling for your attention at once, but you only have so many turns to solve them. The USSR player might agonize over whether to commit more influence to Europe before the region is scored or to focus on the Middle East instead where the US is threatening to cut off access to Asia. The US player meanwhile fears the Soviet incursion into Latin America but is conflicted over whether to protect his interests in Asia or South America.
You’ll find yourself feeling like the President and the director of the CIA all rolled into one as you attempt to coup an opponent’s regime or build up influence in Africa so your opponent doesn’t expect your sweeping realignment of Europe on your next turn. I’m not sure that I’ve done justice to Twilight Struggle in this review, but I find that I can’t recommend this game enough. If you’re a history buff or a fan of strategy games, Twilight Struggle is a must but I encourage everyone to give it a try if you get a chance.
Twilight Struggle is game for two players that takes between one and three hours to finish. It’s sitting pretty in the #1 Board Game spot as ranked by players here at BoardGameGeek.
* You can find other game reviews and articles on my blog over at cardboardconquest.tumblr.com *
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- Benjamin SchoenheiterGermany
- Marvelous review!
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- Karl BunyanUnited Kingdom
- Nice compact review!
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